New wastewater treatment system could be coming to East End

New innovations in treatment of wastewater could be on the horizon for the East End.

Peconic baykeeper Kevin McAllister has teamed up with Massachusetts engineer Pio Lombardo to tout the benefits of a groundbreaking technology in wastewater treatment at town halls across the East End.

The Nitrex nitrate removal system that Mr. Lombardo has developed was recently approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health, and can be used as an alternative to more costly and infrastructure intensive sewage treatment systems by hotels, restaurants and other high wastewater operations, Mr. McAllister told the Southold Town Board at a work session March 13.

Mr. Lombardo said the system is a wood-based membrane filter sometimes coupled with man-made wetlands that further filter wastewater.

The standard for safe levels of nitrate in water is 10 milligrams per liter. Mr. Lombardo said his system, which has been installed in more than 200 locations, averages about 3 milligrams per liter.

He added that his firm works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop state-of-the-art wastewater treatment solutions.

“Most nitrogen in wastewater is in ammonia form,” Mr. Lombardo told the board. He said there are two types of wastewater treatment systems, both of which convert ammonia to nitrate and then convert the nitrate to harmless nitrogen gas. The activated sludge system is the kind typically seen at sewage treatment plants, where bacteria that breaks down sludge grows in large aerated tanks.

The Nitrex system consists of a film within the sludge on which the bacteria grows, eats the nitrates in the ammonia and converts it to nitrogen gas. The small, self-contained system is usually below grade and unnoticeable to passers-by, and Mr. Lombardo’s firm, Lombardo Associates, can monitor it remotely.

Unlike the aerated tank system, which requires constant supervision, the Nitrex system can be visited once a week for four hours.

Southold Town Board members wondered if the treatment would remove pharmaceuticals, but Mr. Lombardo said that would require ozone treatment, which would be more expensive.

“There’s a raging debate as to the degree to which those need to be removed, but it’s doable,” he said.

The system costs roughly $30,000 per property that is hooked up to it, he said, compared with sewers, which cost about $60,000 per property.

Though the health department has approved the system, Mr. McAllister urged Southold officials to push the health department to request these systems when applications come before the Planning Board.

The health department “is still on a slow boat to China,” he said. “Why do we just keep perpetuating archaic practice when there’s a better way of doing things?”

Planner Mark Terry said later that Southold’s planning department and Planning Board are both supportive of the system. In Southold’s case, he said, it would be best used in residential site plan and subdivision applications.

He said, however, that most of Southold’s code regarding wastewater stipulates that the health department would be the entity that would request the Nitrex system.

“I did hear that Suffolk County is looking at the Nitrex system as a good alternative to conventional systems,” said Mr. Terry.

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